Tonight, I went with Greg Gerke to an event honoring the ever-inimitable Stanley Elkin. After a short documentary of Elkin’s life (featuring soundbites from his wife, daughter, William Gass, and others), Sam Lipsyte and David C. Dougherty weighed in. Lipsyte discussed the might and mythos of Elkin, and remarked on the effect that Elkin’s prose had on his own bitingly comedic writing, singling out “A Poetics for Bullies” for especial praise:
I’m Push the bully, and what I hate are new kids and sissies, dumb kids and smart, rich kids, poor kids, kids who wear glasses, talk funny, show off, patrol boys and wise guys and kids who pass pencils and water the plants—cripples, especially cripples. I love nobody loved.
One time I was pushing this red-haired kid (I’m a pusher, no hitter, no belter; an aggressor of marginal violence, I hate real force) and his mother stuck her head out the window and shouted something I’ve never forgotten. “Push,” she yelled. “You, Push. You pick on him because you wish you had his red hair!” It’s true; I did wish I had his red hair. I wish I were tall, or fat, or thin. I wish I had different eyes, different hands, a mother in the supermarket. I wish I were a man, a small boy, a girl in the choir. I’m a coveter, a Boston Blackie of the heart, casing the world. Endlessly I covet and case. (Do you know what makes me cry? The Declaration of Independence. “All men are created equal.” That’s beautiful.)
If you’re a bully like me, you use your head. Toughness isn’t enough. You beat them up, they report you. Then where are you? I’m not even particularly strong. (I used to be strong. I used to exercise, work out, but strength implicates you, and often isn’t an advantage anyway—read the judo ads. Besides, your big bullies aren’t bullies at all—they’re athletes. With them, beating guys up is a sport.) But what I lose in size and strength I make up in courage. I’m very brave. That’s a lie about bullies being cowards underneath. If you’re a coward, get out of the business.
I’m best at torment.